“I Believe in Taking Care of People”: Pushing Back against Rationalized Institutions with a Logic of Care

Jacqui Frost, Penny Edgell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A founding sociological metanarrative describes modernization as an ongoing process in which complex and bureaucratic institutions increasingly regulate social life, privileging instrumental-rational logics of action and the authority of scientific, legal, and technical elites. This makes it increasingly difficult to sustain substantive rationality, or moral action rooted in substantive values. Drawing on data from 48 focus groups in which ordinary U.S. citizens discuss contemporary social controversies, we find that substantive rationality is common, and commonly rooted in a logic of care. Individuals in our focus groups often invoked a logic of care to make moral claims that justified the consideration of context and complexity, encouraged empathy, and centered individual well-being. We find that invoking a logic of care is sometimes an automatic response and sometimes arrived at after deliberation, and that a logic of care is used across different social locations within our sample, including by both men and women and across different racial and religious groups. And we find that a logic of care is often used to “push back” against or negotiate with more rational logics of action like law, science, and efficiency. We argue that our focus on a logic of care helps render substantive rationality more visible and legible for analysis, providing a corrective to metanarratives of disenchantment and fostering a richer understanding of the processes through which people make moral claims in interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101593
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.


  • Ethics of care
  • Feminist theory
  • Focus groups
  • Moral logics
  • Rationalization


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